More than 30 members of Congress have sent a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma asking her to expand COVID-19 telehealth coverage for audiology and speech-language pathology services.

By Eric Wicklund

October 13, 2020 – The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is again facing calls to expand telehealth coverage for audiology and speech-language pathology during the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of 34 members of Congress has sent a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma asking her to give these specialists more opportunities to use telehealth to treat patients at home, rather than requiring them to come into the clinic or doctor’s office for in-person care.

“There are a number of audiology and speech-language pathology services that can be provided under Medicare in-person that can also be provided remotely in a safe and effective manner,” the letter states. “We recommend adding to the telehealth services list audiology codes representing core diagnostic tests for identifying the type, severity, and etiology of hearing loss or the need for further vestibular testing. We also recommend adding to the telehealth services list speech-language pathology codes representing evaluation and treatment of a broader range of speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders, as well as those that relate to evaluating and treating individuals who need speech-generating devices.”

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have lobbed to CMS to improve coverage for audiologists.

In April, lawmakers sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking that physical and occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists receive Medicare coverage for their services, following the expansion of telehealth coverage under the CARES Act.

Shortly thereafter, US Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Troy Balderson (R-OH) and French Hill (R-AR) introduced The Emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Response Act, which would expand Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for physical and occupational therapists, clinical social workers, speech pathologists and audiologists.

Two weeks after that, CMS waived limitations on the types of care providers eligible for Medicare reimbursement, thus allowing physical and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists to bill for their services in Medicare Part B plans.

And in May, lawmakers sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking that provisions of the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act be included in future COVID-19 relief packages. That bill, introduced in July 2019 in the House and September 2019 in the Senate, includes language that would eliminate outdated physician order requirements, update the Medicare statute to classify audiologists as practitioners, and authorize Medicare to reimburse audiologists for the Medicare-covered, medically necessary treatment services that can be delivered by telehealth.

This latest letter continues to press the case for more coverage of virtual care.

“At a time when individuals with hearing, communication, and swallowing disorders face even higher risk for isolation and depression, Medicare beneficiaries must have access to appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic services via telehealth to slow transmission of COVID-19 and ensure they receive medically necessary treatment to meet their functional goals,” the letter concludes. “We understand that CMS can issue sub-regulatory guidance to provide better access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries who need the services of audiologists and SLPs. We strongly encourage you to issue such guidance to add further audiology and speech-language pathology codes to the authorized telehealth services list for its duration as soon as possible.”

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